“Our Attitude towards the Underprivileged,” Pedro Arrupe (1977)

At the International Colloquium of Jesuit Alumni held in Padua in August 1977, Pedro Arrupe delivered the following address. The frank remarks begin with the admission of the Superior General of the Society of Jesus that, while he feels “very much whatever touches the alumni, both as individuals and as a body,” there have been “very modest” or even no flourishing among the Jesuit alumni associations. As a remedy and as a way to make these groups agents of positive change in the world, Arrupe endorses a change in attitude among the alumni, away from a nostalgic viewpoint. He asks Jesuit alumni to “change from a ‘village view’ to a more universal one which knows neither frontier nor limit.” He believes that Jesuit alumni and their associations can exercise solidarity with the poor and can “contribute to our understanding of inculturation through their studies.” Arrupe concludes by stressing the realistic steps possible, not that “we should begin simply, realistically, slowly, without wasting time on grandiose blueprints.”

For more sources from Arrupe, please visit The Arrupe Collection.



1. Interest and Neglect

Associations of alumni and the alumni themselves are dear to me. I think they affect us very much, since they are a “product” of the education of the Society and at the same time are a sign—positive or negative—of the education we have provided. Your life, your activities are able to show what you have learned from us. They are a witness and at the same time a great responsibility. “By their fruits you will know them.” This subject is complex and deserving of more attention; but this is not the appropriate time to develop this theme.


I feel very much whatever touches the alumni, both as individuals and as a body, and so I have tried during the twelve years of my generalate to do all that in me lies to lead the Society to serve you in the best way possible. I believe that what is at stake is a very important apostolate especially in our times. In effect, changes in the world and the Church force us to help you round out your earlier education by a kind of continuing formation and thus to help you keep up to date insofar as such formation depends on us. Educated for an earlier period of history, you may thus be men of today as well.


I have done what I could do—though it has not been much—to help local, national, and world groupings of alumni to flourish. The results have been very modest and in some instances none at all. So much so that some have felt that the effort was useless. But I have never given up without first trying to dedicate myself with even greater strength and realism to help advance what is at stake.


Perhaps my efforts and those of the Society have not been as strong and effective as they might have been. You have indicated this to us more than once. Perhaps we are involved in a vicious circle, which may explain, though not excuse, the attitude of some superiors of the Society. Associations which are not alive and do not respond to legitimate expectations, such superiors say, do not deserve to have a capable Jesuit spend all his time at their service. On the other hand, unless such Jesuits are assigned to the work, the results will be next to nothing.


On the other hand conditions in the world today present us with every kind of difficulty. There are the deep cultural changes which demand a comprehension and an elasticity for which you were not prepared. There are the changes in the Society itself as it follows the Second Vatican Council and its own General Congregation. Such changes have upset not a few who see in those changes new orientations which are very disquieting and who judge that the Society being formed is not that of yesterday. On the other hand, the new generation has ideas and ways of acting and attitudes very different from those of the past. Its language is unintelligible, while its attitudes, way of dressing and, above all, its scale of values are entirely different. So, a generation gap exists, and this has produced in some alumni associations an almost complete rupture between young and old, a phenomenon never before experienced in such acute form.


So, these doubts and tensions among yourselves and between yourselves and the Society have certainly not contributed to the formation and development of alumni associations. But we must take reality as it is and not be disheartened because of difficulties in the recent past. We should look to the future with great optimism, I believe, for such an attitude enables us the better to understand how to overcome difficulties and, in addition, to discover positive aspects and opportunities. Such an attitude enables us, not only to become aware of limitations and mistakes of the past, but also to try to profit to the full from all that in present circumstances can help us realize the ideal of alumni associations in increasingly effective ways.


2. Need for a Change of Attitudes

In the past, I would say, alumni associations have been marked by a kind of nostalgic turning to the “old days,” recalling with affection and gratitude our own times at school in our meetings. Those days of the past, relived in anecdote and story year after year, strengthened the bonds of affection among classmates, which annually drew us together again in an atmosphere of great joy. After all, olim meminisse iuvabit! But after those moments of happiness nothing remained except to wait for the next year and its nostalgic turning to the past.


Today, the needs of the world and the responsibility which is ours for that world means that we cannot be content with such nostalgic recollections but must feel ourselves obliged to do something useful, above all for others. For ourselves too, by changing our ways of looking at things and even our style of living. We feel that we have been privileged by reason of the family into which we have been born, the education which we have received, the position we have enjoyed, the profession we have exercised, in short, the many gifts which God has lavished on us. So many others have lacked these gifts, and they suffer as they see themselves oppressed by a system in which we too are involved and which keeps them from living at least a human life.


This concerns our very alumni associations. Yes, we have to change our subjective nostalgia for an objective realism, perhaps, for example, by not insisting on having as our adviser or assistant a Jesuit whom we knew in our days at school but by agreeing to have someone else and being able to cooperate with him. In place of being interested solely in our own school, we must expand our interest to include others too, since all are working for the same purpose and perhaps the works of others are of greater apostolic importance. We must be interested, not only in what happens in our own country, but also in the entire Society. What is called for is a change of mentality, a change from a “village view” to a more universal one which knows neither frontier nor limit.


The mentality of pre-Vatican II days must be changed into one which harmonizes with post-conciliar times and thus with the Church today. This Church, with its new focuses and activities, which go beyond works of .charity and include works of justice and active measures directed towards the effective creation of “a more human and more just world.”


3. Change of Attitude and Spirit

A point of great importance is that of cooperation between laity and Jesuits. In this respect, the attitude of Jesuits, corresponding to the 31st and 32nd General Congregations and the Second Vatican Council, has changed considerably. It may have seemed up until a few years ago that the laity were expected to cooperate with Jesuits, under Jesuit direction. In other words, the laity were “under” Jesuits. Today we Jesuits recognize the value of the lay vocation and work and we see ourselves as cooperating with the laity in common works, in which often enough we joyfully acknowledge their superior competence. What I am saying is that it is not a question of the cooperation of “second class” people, the laity, with us because we do not have enough Jesuits. Rather we want to cooperate with you, and we acknowledge your superior competence. This is a work of equal with equal, where you are able to bring knowledge and experience in which we are—and perhaps should be—largely ignorant and amateur. So, your work as members of the laity with Jesuits is much different from what it was up to a few years ago and we realize more than ever the value of your collaboration.


We have to recognize that the individualism and at times the desire for excellence which not infrequently characterized our form of education, and which you have continued to foster in your life, should be changed into a desire to serve. If we want to be eminent in our profession or in any form of human achievement, it is not for selfish reasons or for our own satisfaction, but rather in order to be of service to others. Now, this may seem utopian, unrealizable. But it is an ideal which is attractive to young people today and is inspiring them to great efforts and sacrifices. My words about “persons for others” on another occasion mean exactly this. In my opinion these words express the ideal of the Ratio studiorum in modern language. In addition to giving that ideal the greatest depth, they also make it acceptable to those who do not share our faith. It is a philanthropic ideal, which atheists too can make their own. This, then, is the type of person we are trying to educate today. Those who graduated in former years and who for one reason or other don’t see things this way should try to understand and put into practice what this ideal means, for as time passes it will be as today it should be, one of the marks of our alumni associations. And in order to be able to work together in the same associations it is indispensable for all of us to have one and the same view on this point.


4. More Diversified Membership

I now turn to another change which is upon us. I refer to the number of alumni who are graduating from vocational, professional, or “free” schools, such as are open to boys and girls from families of more limited resources, families of workers and of peasants. The Society is very interested in this development because just as it does not want any young person to be unable to attend our schools for financial reasons so it wants alumni associations to be open to every kind of former student.


The Society does not want to make distinctions and wants to see that all are treated equally, so far as that is possible.


What until a few years ago would have been impracticable and perhaps inadmissible is a necessity. If we fail to recognize this, we should feel “anti-evangelical” and see ourselves as “counter-witnesses”—and none of us, I am sure, wants to be in this situation.


Another point I call your attention to is the number of young women in our institutions. This is not a new phenomenon, except for the increase in their number, especially at the primary and secondary levels. It is a change that should enrich our associations and round out their potential to be more effective and all-embracing in their activities and in their efforts to respond to family and social questions. Women should have their place in our associations for reasons which correspond to their dignity as persons made in the image of God, not merely for reasons of kindness and courtesy.


These remarks are not intended to imply that our associations have been entirely inactive all over. No, by no manner of means. There are splendid examples, not numerous perhaps, which hint at the magnificent possibilities before us and testify to the results which can be achieved when we know how to use opportunities. I refrain from citing examples so as not to offend by omission.


5. Possibilities and Requirements

Statistics of an approximate sort indicate that about 500,000 alumni are organized, and perhaps two million not organized. We do not have to call on our imagination to sense the possibilities hinted at by those statistics, especially if we consider the great variety of ages, countries, cultures, social classes, religious beliefs, and professions involved. This broad and varied spectrum opens possibilities for serving mankind which deserve longer and more detailed consideration at another time, especially the range of activities open to us, not only in particular nations but also in international circles, given the great variety and number of countries in which Jesuit alumni are found. Such activities, seen from a religious and cultural point of view, can be very influential, if we are able to create the right kind of structure needed for international communication and cooperation. In this connection the World Union of Alumni will play a very important role.


I turn now to the challenge of inculturation. Both local associations and the World Union can make a real contribution in this very real and pressing area.


To speak about inculturation at this moment of history may seem to be very odd, or at least out of place. For we are witnessing convulsive changes in the cultures and history of mankind, when talk is about the disintegration of Western culture and of cultural revolution in the East shifting to the West. And yet it is precisely at this time when entire cultures and the human person himself feel disoriented and tempted by pervasive skepticism even about matters that might deserve more respect (such as science and social evolution)—it is precisely now, I say, that the Church, the Society and alumni organizations of students taught by Jesuits can play an important role of orientation and of encouragement by becoming worthy interpreters of, or spokesmen for, the human family supposedly lurching into chaos.


Deep down at the heart of today’s tensions, of ethnocentric nationalism, of anti-imperialism, of persecutions, genocide and wars, there is an impulse and thrust which, though unconscious, surely and rapidly is leading us to an ideal of humankind as one great family with a common heritage. The oneness and identity of human nature and the need to preserve its values expressed in such wonderful and varied ways—this view of mankind underlies the changes we are part of.


Now perhaps it is more clear why I say that Jesuit alumni associations can contribute to our understanding of inculturation through their studies.


6. Solidarity with the Poor

There are some who claim to see in the changes that the Society has gone through in recent times a certain kind of radicalism which seems to be very close to Marxism. From this view spring suspicions and even accusations against the Society as if it had been infiltrated by Marxism. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Society is endeavoring to follow the Gospel, and it cannot allow its spirit to be identified with any ideology, whether of right or of left, nor with any political party. Such an identification would represent a mutilation of the Gospel and an ascription to Jesus Christ of views and attitudes that are found nowhere in the Bible.


However, the Society along with the Church has made some definite choices and deliberately taken positions which are as radical as or more radical than those of any ideologist. But the difference between the two lies, first, in the motivation; then, in the limits; and, finally, in the means to pursue the choices. They cannot be anti-evangelical, and for that reason they exclude all violence and whatever is incompatible with charity and justice.


One of the most difficult points for many to understand, and one which may smack of novelty, is our declared solidarity with the poor. The 32nd General Congregation has underlined this solidarity as one of the choices characterizing the Society today. For this reason, I would say that, though the General Congregation speaks directly to Jesuits, it has a message that indirectly touches former students of the Society inasmuch as you have been educated by and want to cooperate with Jesuits. So, what immediately follows refers directly to Jesuits, but you can look on it as a counsel which we offer if you want to cooperate to the full with the Society of today.


Our solidarity with the poor is not a new or theoretical consideration drawn from a Jesuit blueprint (ideario), nor is it a light which we are projecting onto our apostolic work. It is, rather, a new manner of being and of living. Clearly it demands a change in our way of thinking, for—if I may use an old scholastic adage—our action follows upon our manner of being. We must transform our being in order to be able to work in a new way. Phenomenologically at least, our being—our way of living—is confined within capitalistic social structures proper to the middle class rather than to the poor.


Whether we like it or not, no matter how we explain it, the fact is there: social classes exist. They exist everywhere. They divide mankind into strata which are opposed to one another or—if you will—into watertight compartments which admit of little or no intercommunication. Each class is held together by its own interests, affinities and relations among its members, while aggressivity and lines of attack characterize its relation to outsiders. In this class network of relations, people are led to take internally consistent class positions on any kind of social, economic, or political problem. Any conflict—whether in Korea, the Middle East, or among races—will resonate with the chord of our own class mentality.


One who claims to be free from class mentality is rightly suspect. Only with great difficulty do we escape from the claims of class. The extremely privileged, who have not felt institutionalized injustice in their own flesh, react with amazement and defensiveness before the demands of the masses for a new order. In tranquil possession of what they believe to be their rights they look upon themselves as above the conflict. When they find themselves the object of claims on the part of others, they speak of unjust aggression on what is irrevocably theirs and maintain that it is licit to defend themselves in every way. This unconscious sense of class is a determining element in the situation.


On the other hand, the great masses of the dispossessed, schooled by a long history of suffering and privation and more recently by ideological propaganda, are keenly aware of what is just and unjust. Extremely sensitive to whatever offends their most basic human rights, they inevitably evaluate every situation and find similarities or differences with their own situation in any type of conflict they become aware of, no matter how distant it may seem. Naturally, then, they react with the incautious directness of the unsophisticated in ways that logically express their sense of solidarity and aggressivity. This reality I have described—schematized in a conventional way perhaps but undoubtedly true in its general outline—must lead us to ask to what class we belong and how we react to conflicts that, at first sight, we might describe as distant from ourselves. “In what direction do our own sympathies move in particular cases?”


Surely as Christians helped by the grace of God we should put ourselves above any classist or partisan interpretation where this would involve our accepting a Manichaen or Marxist dichotomy or our abandoning our mission to bring all to Christ. But it will not be easy to free ourselves from the conditioning of the class to which, perhaps unconsciously, we belong. Only if we detect those conditioning elements within ourselves and react against them will we be able to achieve this freedom.


Just because our upbringing and institutional framework lead us to emphasize the values of the status quo as opposed to a new order and order as opposed to the upheavals involved in redistribution, many laymen have tried to react by making their own the cause of the people and in so doing they were undoubtedly led by ideals of an evangelical stamp.


Their stand has led to tensions and conflicts within the Church often inevitably fruitful. Some, however, have been mistaken and counter-productive, because they have brought a spirit of class and also of class struggle into the Church, thus wounding it in two of its essentials: its unity and its universality. This whole matter I offer for your reflection.


7. A Source of Spirituality

Such reflection will certainly require a profoundly Ignatian spirit, which the Christian Life Communities can make available to you. I mention the CLC in this context for through it the alumni can imbibe the true spirit conducive to a very great supernatural dynamism. The CLC movement has been updated and rejuvenated and is producing excellent fruits. A typical Community, inspired by the Spiritual Exercises and Marian spirituality, engages in activities pointed towards solving modern problems. The courses of formation for active membership are outstanding, aiding those who take part in them through a very solid, modern kind of spirituality to become apostles adept at using community discernment to establish apostolic priorities and to choose the best means to achieve their ends.


I believe that the CLC movement can invigorate alumni through giving them that spirit of St. Ignatius which was an important element in their formation at school. This ongoing formation in the Spirit will more than complement what you have learned in the past. It will give you that Ignatian depth and flexibility which in our world of rapid change and of impoverishing and distracting superficiality is so powerful. Through the CLC you can keep alive that spirituality which you learned at school and provide you with apostolic instruments valid for today’s world. Thus you can bring to realization the apostolic ideal which the world and the Church ask of us today.


8. Realism

Through experience, if through no other way, we have come to understand that if we strive for too much we end badly. We must be very realistic, knowing that he who wants to build high must begin by laying the foundations deep and by first seeing what capital he possesses, as we are counselled by the Gospel. So, I think we should begin simply, realistically, slowly, without wasting time on grandiose blueprints. It is along these lines that you seem to have been moving. Hence, we must develop a universal outlook as a necessary prerequisite for creating an effectively operational World Union.




Original Source:

Justice with Faith Today: Selected Letters and Addresses—II, ed. Jerome Aixala. St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1980, “Change of Attitude toward the Underprivileged,” pg. 241–252.

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